Dreaming of Bamboo Forest
Frank Sinatra's 1964 hit song "Fly me to the moon" expresses Americans euphoric dream of flying to the moon and exploring the world beyond their reach. But it actually happened, in 1969, during the Johnson administration. Astronaut Neal Armstrong navigated Apollo 11 to the moon as millions watched in awe and planted an American flag on that planet that had captured human imagination since an ancient time.
The recent Johnson County residents' idea of reducing pollution and eventually saving the world by creating bamboo forests in the Midwest seems farfetched, even silly, not because I'm old and would not be around to see the bamboo forests before my own eyes. Yet, I admit, I'm not knowledgeable enough about bamboo to argue about its magical power that, according to what I read, eventually cleanse toxins in the air. But Iveth Jalinky, 47, a pilot and member of JoCo Arts council, is adamant about "Planting Bamboo and live happily ever after."
At our first meeting over coffee, she talked about bamboo with passion that bamboo had been used by humans for more than 5000 years; that it's not a tree as people might believe but it's evergreen perennial grass with high compressive strength that could be compared to steel. "It's used for furniture, building materials, beddings, and they are sturdier and longer-lasting than things made of wood," she said.
As I listened, I had an urge to say that we Asians know more about bamboo than her, an immigrant from Colombia, and point out that I grew up using bamboo chopsticks, bamboo indoor/outdoor furniture, bamboo floor mats, and bamboo pillows that was too stiff against my head and neck. And the whips that often landed on us at school were made of bamboo, and the long smoking pipes some old grandpas carried around to smack on any lads that didn't bow to him were also made of bamboo. But I kept my mouth shut, because we've just met.
In short, Jalinsky and other "bamboo advocates" believe that bamboo can reduce the level of carbon dioxide in the air, making our environment safer, and hundreds of organizations and individuals in the U.S. are working together to make a difference in the world we live in by bringing bamboo habitat here in America. "The first step is to learn how to effectively grow and produce green forests."
Bamboo, like the moon, also captured human curiosities for centuries. A 17th- century Korean poet wrote "How many friends do I have? Water, rock, bamboo and pine; The moon rising over the hill, you too are my friend; Besides these five, what other friends do I need?"
The idea of planting bamboo takes me back to Korea during the post war era. While attending a middle school in Busan (a port city off the Pacific Ocean) we students were mobilized to the mountains and hillsides twice a year-- two weeks in spring and two weeks in summer--to solely plant tree seedlings. Instead of carrying book bags in those days, we each carried a shovel and a lunchbox.
It was hard labor, carrying buckets filled with water from streams to the planting spots, back and forth, and digging the hard dirt with a shovel, and then planting spidery seedlings our teacher handed out and covering them with dirt. Many parents protested to the school officials for using their children as laborers, including my parents.
Coming home after all day on the hillsides, my hands burned with blisters and legs wobbled from exhaustion. Though we had been instilled with the solemn facts--that we had to replace the trees the Japanese Special Forces during Japan's occupation of Korea shamelessly chopped down from our mountains and hillsides and shipped them to Manchuria, China, Japan and the Pacific Islands to build army barracks, fighters planes, and brothel houses--I resented the backbreaking labor. Then as a child, I didn't fully understand the importance of potential forests that would prevent mudslides that was happening every summer in Korea, killing lives, because no tree roots could prevent dirt from shifting.
Looking back now six decades later, I'm glad that we planted those seedlings with our own hands.
When I returned to my homeland in the late 1970's with my children, a quarter of a century after we planted the tree-seedlings, I was exhilarated at seeing the green jungles everywhere along the highways. I particularly enjoyed seeing tall pine trees defining where the sky begins and earth ends. Without those saplings we had planted, the Korean mountains might still be bald, suffering mudslides in the rainy season we often hear about in other countries in these days. It was a worthwhile labor, no matter how tiresome it had been.
Seeing bamboo groves in our area in the future is a possible dream, as possible as flying to the moon in the early 1960's. Pandas might migrate here from central China, delighting American children, though the furry creatures shouldn't be totally trusted.
How practical is growing bamboo here? Only "time" and further experimentations could tell. I, a Korean, survived the harsh American climate in the 1960's as a newcomer when Americans considered all Asians "Chinese." Now I am a proud American senior citizen, though I still look like a Chinese.
I admire anyone, young or old, white or black or yellow or green, with big dreams. No dreams could come true without trials and tribulation, true? America can't be "America" without our forefather's dreams, trials, and tribulations.